CLEVELAND (Reuters) - An Ohio prosecutor said on Thursday he will seek aggravated murder charges, which could carry the death penalty, against a former Cleveland school bus driver accused of kidnapping and raping three women during a decade of captivity in his house.
The charges would stem from the forced miscarriages that police say were suffered by one of the women at the hands of Ariel Castro, who is accused of holding them captive at his house in a low-income neighbourhood of Cleveland.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty told a news conference that his office intends to pursue charges of kidnapping and sexual assault as well as aggravated murder.
Prosecutors also planned to file charges relating to the many abuses endured by Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight as well as Berry’s 6-year-old daughter who was born in captivity, he said.
“I fully intend to seek charges for each and every act of sexual violence, rape, each day of kidnapping, every felonious assault, and each act of aggravated murder for terminating pregnancies that the offender perpetrated,” he said.
The prosecutor’s office will launch the official process to determine if the death penalty is appropriate, he said.
“Capital punishment must be reserved for those crimes that are truly the worst examples of human conduct,” McGinty said.
Knight suffered at least five miscarriages that she told police were intentionally caused by Castro starving her and beating her in the abdomen, according to an initial police report.
The three women and child escaped on Monday from the house, where police said Castro used ropes and chains to hold them captive for around a decade, inflicting starvation, beatings and sexual abuse. Berry, now 27, disappeared in 2003, the day before her 17th birthday. DeJesus, 23, vanished in 2004, and Knight, 32, went missing in 2002.
The city of Cleveland has already filed kidnapping and rape charges against Castro, who appeared briefly in a municipal court on Thursday. Felony charges stemming from crimes that occurred in the city are first handled in municipal court and then transferred to the county court.
Castro’s court appearance was the first time he has been seen in public since his arrest on Monday. Municipal Court Judge Lauren Moore set bond for Castro at $8 million (5.1 million pounds).
Castro’s home “was a prison to these three women and the child,” Cuyahoga County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Brian Murphy told the judge. “Today the situation is turned on him,” Murphy said. “Mr. Castro stands before you a captive, in captivity, a prisoner.”
The judge also ordered Castro to have no contact with the victims or their families. Their imprisonment came to an end on Monday when Berry, helped by neighbours who heard her screams, broke through a locked door.
During the municipal court proceedings that lasted less than five minutes, Castro neither spoke nor entered a plea. He kept his face turned away from the gallery that was crowded with media and spectators.
Castro’s court appointed lawyer, Kathleen DeMetz, said he would be placed on suicide watch in jail and is expected to be held in isolation, the lawyer said.
He would need $800,000 cash - 10 percent of the bond amount - to get out of jail.
“The man doesn’t have any money,” Metz said. “He clearly doesn’t have that,” noting that Castro had been unemployed since being fired from his job driving school buses last November.
Berry told police that her escape on Monday had been her first chance to break free in the 10 years that she was held, seizing the opportunity during Castro’s momentary absence.
Her baby was born in a plastic inflatable children’s swimming pool on Christmas Day, 2006, authorities said. A paternity test will be conducted to determine the girl’s father.
The women told police their abductions occurred when Castro offered them rides and they accepted, authorities said.
McGinty, the county prosecutor, said assembling a multitude of charges against Castro could take time, considering the ordeals the victims experienced.
“They need a chance to heal before we can seek further in-depth evidence from them,” he said, describing them as having “found the internal strength and courage to outlast their tormentor and survive a decade of torture and depravity.”
Berry and DeJesus went home with family members on Wednesday, while Knight remained hospitalized in good condition.
Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg and Kevin Gray; Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Grant McCool, Bernard Orr